The Internet faces an existential threat from the cable companies that provide service to millions of Americans, said the founder of Reddit.com.
Web entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian appeared last week on the Joe Rogan Experience to talk about the future of online rights and access.
He said only about six to eight lawmakers understood the Internet and were willing to fight for user rights, which leaves consumers vulnerable to schemes to charge more for online access.
“We’re now in a position where cable companies — because they’re basically oligopolies, right? — because there’s only a handful of them, want to break (net neutrality), Ohanian said. “They don’t want the Internet to be flat; they want it to look like your cable. They want you to have a basic package, right? Where you get Bing search for free, because they’ve made a deal with Microsoft. If you want Google, it’s an extra $10 a month, but it’s a really good search engine, so you’ll pay for it, right?”
A federal appeals court in January struck down as unconstitutional a “net neutrality” rule prohibiting broadband Internet providers from blocking or playing favorites for online services, ruling that the Federal Communications Commission lacks authority to enforce it.
Ohanian said that left upstart services out of the market, because they wouldn’t be part of the default Internet package and users would be less willing to try new services that cost additional money.
“What used to be a flat Internet will become hierarchical, where you’ll have that internet bill looking just like your cable bill,” he said. “It breaks the foundation of what makes the Internet work – all bits being equal.”
He drew from his own experience starting the social networking, news, and entertainment site Reddit in 2005.
“I can start a website with my buddy, and we have no connections, we just have an internet connection and some laptops, and we can build something that nine years later will have more traffic than the New York Times or CNN,” Ohanian said. “That works because all bits are created equal, you can get to my brand new website, Reddit.com, nine years ago, just as easily as you can NewYorkTimes.com. And you get to decide, do I want to go to Reddit or do I want to go to New York Times? It’s just as easy to get to.”
He compared the threat to net neutrality to the threat posed by Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, both of which were defeated by overwhelming public opposition.
“The entertainment industry basically spent $100 million lobbying for these two bills to curb piracy, that was the intent and that was what they said, except the lobbyists who wrote these – it was embarrassing how broad these bills were, it was like a sledgehammer for what they said was a scalpel, and it would have really f*cked up the internet,” Ohanian said.
Thousands, if not millions, of Internet users called their representatives to voice their disapproval, which he said made the bills “toxic,” but he said the success of their efforts might obscure how imperiled the open Internet remains.
“It was a great high, especially for, like, a first foray into politics, but the fact is, there are many more of those fights that we have to keep fighting, and I hope a more connected citizen feels entitled to this kind of stuff,” Ohanian said. “I hope we feel entitled to more transparency from our government.”
He suggested Internet users call the FCC to support continued net neutrality, and he said voters must continue to pressure lawmakers.
“I’m on the front line as an investor these days, and I get to see the kids who are doing even cooler things, who are doing even bigger and better things, and I don’t want to lose that,” Ohanian said. “I don’t want to miss out on so much innovation because we f*ck it up.”
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